With His Arms Outstretched
Disagreement between MilDef and MedRes about terrorist and whether to kill or rescue
EVAR - Extra Vehicular Activity Runabout, a small powered sled with grapples an instruments that can swing up over back if use of hands/feet is required
MedRes ship: * Med * Alpha: 0-9 * Beta: 0-9 * Reserve: 0-4 * Res * Gamma: 0-9 * Delta: 0-9 * Reserve: 5-9
suits have glass faceplate, but it’s covered by a close-fitting block which projects the view from cameras on the outside to the occupant. If cameras die, the block can be ejected, at the risk of the more fragile faceplate being exposed.
Voice 1: With his arms outstretched.
Voice 2: With his arms outstretched…
Voice 3: With his arms outstretched?
Voice 2: Do you see them?
Voice 3: Hold on…
Voice 1: Can you get him? Do you see him?
Voice 2: No…
Voice 1: Shoot.
Voice 2: Hang on, hang on…
MedRes Ship Rodriguez Med Alpha Niner — her name was Arianna, but only HR knew that, and sometimes even she forgot — clenched her fists shut until stubby nails dug into pads. This was not how it was supposed to go.
She’d been working at her post for nearly fifteen years, and had yet to experience any sort of disaster of this scale, nor any so…complex. In space, most disasters are either handled with efficiency by on-board MedRes folks or so catastrophic as to leave no one left to handle them at all. The medical/rescue ships were usually dispatched to either treat any wounded or clean up debris (or, failing that, nudge it into the atmosphere). The ‘rescue’ portion of their job was tacked on to their job description to make the general population feel well taken care of.
And yet here she was, socketed into her suit, which was socketed into her EVAR, staring out across the mess of ship-bits highlighted against her visor.
The debris field stretched across an spheroid two kilometers wide at its widest. The Rodriguez was still station-keeping at fifteen kilometers away, per regulations — no reason to risk that as well — but the magnified and highlighted view showed what appeared to be two ships complicated by the wreckage of a third.
The wreckage was a wash, and Med knew it. Their job was to figure out what was going on with the two other ships. Dispatch had said there was one MilDef in place and intact, overseeing the damaged passenger vessel and the lost cargo ship.
Military/Defense. First of those she’d seen.
The MilDef ships were spherical with powerful engines recessed within their hull and attitude jets in rings along three axes. Their weapons were centered opposite the main engines to allow compensation for what recoil from the more powerful stuff on board. Despite the fact that they looked rather like matte black balloons, they were so adroit, so feared, that they inspired something far less than joy in most spacers’ eyes.
There were only three of those in use. Expensive balloons.
The passenger ship was one of those powered rotation ring models that moved its cargo of people and mods under gravity in comfort. This was less true now, of course. Only one quadrant of the ring seems to have survived, with the antipodal one shredded and the two adjacent quadrants dark, and seemingly open to space. The command bulb still had lights, though. That was a good sign.
The cargo ship was now shrapnel, but readouts suggested it’d been of a dated string-of-cans make.
That was the part that didn’t make sense to Niner. To destroy all three clusters of three cans would’ve taken some pretty intense effort. A bomb in each, perhaps, or one centered between each of the clusters, which sounded fantastically unrealistic.
No wonder MilDef was here.
”…Alpha. Attention Alpha. Attention Alpha.”
She snapped away from speculation and back to reality. The attention command was repeated five times before a debriefing, and she’d missed more than two. At the final command, her screens went dark.
“This is situation number two-one-one-three-dash-zero-five-dash-one-two Rodriguez one. The classification is black. The sit-rep for the operation is zero-one. The sit-rep for squads is Squad zero.”
Only the situation number ever changed, it seemed, and that was emblazoned at the bottom of her HUD. No one bothered to remember it.
Certainly no one had now: none had ever seen anything other than a red classification. Sit-rep had control of their mics now and vox was off, but Niner could imagine the chorus of curses and whistles coming from Alpha, the same passing silently through her mind. A black was unheard of.
So was a MilDef encounter.
“CivTransit Ship Liubao relayed distress on all frequencies after a collision with debris from GoodsTransit Ship Arronsson, dead and dark. Distress was replaced with mayday after segment three was breached explosively with shrapnel damaging segments two and four.
“Segment one is still operational and in lockdown. There are survivors in segments two and four, but less than twenty percent of the stated manifest. The command bulb is fully intact and on lockdown.
“Arronsson remains dead and dark, and all hands are presumed lost.”
‘All hands presumed lost’ fell into the Rescue part of MedRes: rescue others, from the damage of debris. As a phrase, it was sad and horrifying, but as a concept it was part of the ship’s job. Not MA9’s, at least; Gamma and Delta were the rescue crews.
“MilDef Three is attending the situation and holds sixty percent of command authority. Rodriguez has been informed that the damage to Liubao’s section three was via a…a type of claymore mine. Ball bearings, they say. Explosives behind ball bearings shredded the hull.”
MA9 cursed out loud, this time. She had heard of claymores, could understand them in the abstract, could picture how they worked, and could even see the result of the damage before her. Hearing 01 stumble like that, however, is what made the situation feel like something more than a dream. It was 01’s job to never stumble.
“MilDef Three requests Alpha, Gamma, and Delta’s assistance. Alpha is tasked with medical assistance to sections two and four of Liubao. Gamma is divided into two subsquads: RG0 through RG4 are asked with rescue for Liubao, while RG5 through RG9 are tasked to work with Delta on rescue for Arronsson. Beta and Reserve, please remain on standby. Squad sit-reps will complete the briefing.”
01 clicked off, to be replaced by MA0.
“Zero here. Let’s tackle this as three subsuads. MA1, take two and three; MA4 take five and six; MA7 take eight and nine. I’ll take the first two squads and head toward the ring segments to work on med there. Seven through nine, you head to the command bulb. I expect folks will be alright there, but holler if you need.” With that, MA0 clicked off and flicked mic and audio controls open within each subsquad, with him included in all three. Their screens were turned back on again, this time using forward cameras rather than the broadside view they’d been seeing originally
Seven’s languid voice sounded cozy after the laconic 01 and Zero’s jocularity. “Command bulb away, I suppose. Lets get up in front of it and reassess. We may need to just do a handwave and see if they’re okay.”
No matter how many situations she attended with Rodriguez, MA9 never ceased to be amazed by just how perfectly still a disaster was. That serenity — or, rather, the opposition between tranquility and emergency — was what kept her at her post. She could claim highmindedness all she wanted, say she was here to say lives, but that would only ever be half-true. Maybe that’s what got her here, but she stayed for that tension-in-stillness.
Niner’s squad slid the fifteen kilometers to the wreck in relative silence. Now and then, Seven would start humming, catch himself, and fall quiet once again.
Their EVARs always felt like sleds to her, and so the effect was one of sliding down a slippery slope on some cold winter day. A sense of motion amidst all that stillness.
At the runabouts’ top speed, it took them nearly half an hour to make it to the wreck itself. Details slowly came into focus just as slowly. Space obscured nothing, and the cameras on the front of their helmets were very good, but fifteen clicks was a long ways away, and her eyes were only so good.
It was more of a mess than the broadside image had shown.
Segment three was a disaster. The hull had been shredded — quite literally — by the shrapnel of the mine. While the bearings might have just perforated an empty, unpressurized container, the explosive decompression had torn the material of the hull into ribbons as escaping atmosphere and detritus from within slammed against the weakened outer walls.
From there, the damage to two and four was mostly as a result from the damage to segment three. Bulkheads slammed shut, but the force of the segment tearing itself apart ripped at the joins and the impact from the remaining bearings and the shreds of the segment itself had taken place before the segment could be ejected. At an explosive decompression, those segments were supposed to be disconnected and ejected out along a static line. It’d play with everyone’s gravity and the attitude jets would have to work overtime, but the idea was to isolate damage to other segments.
Two and four were dark. If each had a capacity of fifty or so, twenty percent survival rate was still forty dead per segment. A hundred and thirty dead was not the biggest rescue Rodriguez had had to work, but it was up there.
The command bulb was half-obscured by segment two, so as they neared, they had to veer to the left. Their runabouts locked onto the bulb and jets fired to keep them facing it at all times, leading to a sensation of skidding out.
The bulb itself was simply a sphere at the end of the stalk leading back to the torus and engines. A white ball studded every meter or so with a camera pointing forward and a light pointing back, keeping it lit up. Glass was a liability, so ships of this make left that for the passengers, while the bulb relied solely on those cameras to navigate, and those lights to show they were operational. If those lights were dark, as they were on the Arronsson, they were hosed.
The best MedRes could do is to socket a transponder into the universal slot on the front to gain a view inside.
Seven launched that from his EVAR. It was smart enough to find the triangular slot on the front of the bulb and latch itself in place. “Got it,” he murmured. The first words since the briefing.
The image from inside the bulb clicked into place in the lower right of Niner’s HUD. A clean, white room with two command couches sitting empty in the middle of it.
“No clue. Eight, Search down the corridor toward the torus. Niner, check the docking corridor. I’ll see what I can get from logs.”
“Sure thing,” Eight chimed in.
Niner stayed silent as she expanded the image in her HUD to a quarter of her screen and started on her virtual walk-through. As with outside the hull, there were cameras spaced regularly through the ship, so she could ‘stride’ down the corridor from any of four angles.
More of that clean, white paneling, broken only by sticky-strips and rungs, gray along the walls and black along panel that would be the floor under gravity.
And there, at the end, a suited figure.
“Got someone here. Suited, moving.”
Seven and eight both clipped over to her feed, their icons showing up attached to the scene in her HUD.
“That’s not a CivTransit suit,” Seven said. “Looks more like one from the Arronsson or something.”
“Flashing him,” Eight announced, and the lights of the cabin dimmed to half, turned up again to full, back to half, then back to full. The ‘welcome’ flash. Off-and-on flashing was the emergency flash, but they weren’t there yet.
The figure pointed to a few of the cameras and shrugged.
Niner flashed the light next to the camera she was using to watch, and the figure gave a thumbs up gesture.
“Why doesn’t he use the comms?” Seven’s voice, languid as always, made it sound like he was questioning basic facts about the universe. “We have those patched in.”
“Maybe the Arronsson suit won’t talk to them?”
“I guess. I–”
They went silent as the figure sticky-walked toward the camera and got his faceplate up against it, cutting down the glare so that they could see inside of it. Bald, androgynous, tattooed or painted in blue from neck up, as far as they could see.
Eight yelped. “Get…get the fuck away from the ship! Zero! Back off!”
“Wait, hold on!”
The figure inside the corridor leaned back held up a gloved hand, and un-velcod something from the inside of their wrist. A squeeze switch, something to activate without worrying about inflicting extraneous forces on oneself.
The figure squeezed, and the ship gave a jolt to the side, knocking the figure to the far wall of the corridor. Niner’s visor went dark a moment after that, and she felt herself jerked to the side.
“Get out!” Zero was yelling. A sudden clamor announced the now-open channel. “Get out! Get the fuck away!”
“Someone grapple Four! I’m at a bad angle.”
“Ah fuck, got my visor. Slow leak, I think.”
Niner struggled with her own visor, but the display itself was dead, not just the cameras. No HUD, nothing.
She strained her wrist back to flick open a cover within her gauntlet and tug at the switch beneath. Two pops, then a sudden brightness as she watches her display float away, off toward the ship. It’s a bulky, rectangular thing which bolts against the back of her suit-head, protecting the glass and giving her the controlled view and HUD.
She bats at the keys within her gauntlet to silence all but Zero, Seven, Eight, and 01, so that she can focus on the task at hand.
She’s been knocked into a slow spin by whatever hit her display. She’s drifted dangerously close to Liubao’s command bulb, so she swings her EVAR up out of the way, swiveling it to its secondary position on her back in time for her to plant magnetic boots against steel hull and flail to plant a gauntlet, palm down, nearby. That gets her three points of contact, at least. She can push away from Liubao and get her roundabout beneath her again.
Until then, the bulb is a tiny planet beneath her, horizon only ten or so meters away.
“Eight here, Zero. Seven’s out.”
“Fuck. Where’s Niner?”
She didn’t have a HUD anymore, so she couldn’t tell if she’s on vox. She shouted anyway, “Here! I’m here. I’m feet down on on the bulb.”
“Roger. You’re on vox.” All of the joking is gone from Zero’s voice. All that’s left is a thin layer of command covering a well of terror, sounds like. “Is your EVAR still good? Eight’s is out.”
“Yep, just need to get off of the bulb.” She thinks for a moment. “Eight, do you have your display still? Mine’s out.”
“Yeah. I’ll help steer.” There’s a pause, and then, “I’m the green beacon.”
“Thanks.” She shifted her other hand to press against the bulb, bent her elbows and knees